Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (And Watches), June 30

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Happy Monday from the rainy Midwest!

We keep getting overtaken by storm clouds this week, usually right when I've had the impulse to finish the paint job on the weathered porch boards at the back of the house. Ahhh. Home updates. Who said summer was the time to do that?

This week I've been caught up in a bunch of posts from bloggers who recently traveled to SE Asia with Exodus Road, an organization purposing to end child slavery. These bloggers were "undercover" in a manner of speaking as they accompanied investigators onto the streets and into brothels with the purpose of ferreting out signs of sex slavery and human trafficking. The writers were there to give a voice to what they saw and heard; their stories are worth the read.

Rage Against the Minivan defines "The Difference Between Sex Trafficking and Sex Tourism" and shares a poignant interview with two SE Asian women: "What I Learned About Sex Trafficking From an Evening with Two Prostitutes." Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, describes the precariousness of telling the stories of those who have been trafficked: "A Million Ways to Say it Wrong." You can find more blogger reports here.

On a lighter note, Rachel Held Evans announced the advent of a new service for serious bloggers: Wylio, "a site that lets bloggers (and others) find, resize, attribute, and embed creative commons images, all in a few painless steps."  Sign me up!

On a much, much lighter note, this was too cute not to share. It's Tiny--a little perfectionista, a little type-A--working on her rendition of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" Moms and dads of Frozen fans, you will understand. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Gramps (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I write letters...

Dear Gramps,

When I looked through the photo albums at your visitation, I saw you in that orangey-gold Hawaiian shirt that still hangs in your closet. The year marked in the album was 1995, which means you’ve been wearing that shirt for 19 years, at least. And that night after the service, I slept in your bedroom with the closet that contains the Hawaiian shirt. This room is where you've been sleeping with Grandma for, oh, at least sixty years. For all those years, there were two single beds pushed up against one another. To a girl of my generation, that seemed odd and distancing. But for you, born in 1921 and married in 1941, was the beds-pushed-together bit actually a little edgy? Was it a little outside the box for you and your peers, signifying a radical kind of devotion?

Your twin bed had been moved to another room and given to the Filipino caretaker, Josefine, who moved in during your final weeks and months. She whispered prayers into your ears as you reposed on a hospital bed, positioned right next to Grandma’s single. The hospital bed was removed shortly after you died, so your bedroom on the night of your funeral just held the one bed and and showcased the yellowed turquoise-and-white striped wallpaper, the wood-framed antique plates painted with boats, the crumbling ceiling along the outside wall where water damage was never restored. And then your closet: Grandma has eight pairs of colored slippers, at least, hanging in an over-the-door shoe holder there—one pair of slippers for every set of pajamas she owns. She’s had these for, I don’t know, decades, just like your shirts. The closet is about an eighth the size of mine at home and it holds all of your clothes, the same ones you kept wearing. How often do you go shopping once you hit 90? 

You’re everywhere and nowhere in the aftermath of death. The basement was just like you left it before the stroke, little corners where you’d set up shop for various activities. The police radio still works, the drill press, the soldering iron, the buffer you rigged with a light switch for powering on. Your paintbrushes upright in a coffee can. And everywhere, for storage, your Dutch Master cigar boxes neatly shelved and housing metal objects, washers, nuts, wires, trinkets I have no words for. And, I can hear your voice in the house, can almost anticipate your grunty, “Good morning,” can see you at the breakfast table reading horoscopes and joking that Grandma ought to be wary of jilted lovers.

My children were a little afraid of you. They’re afraid of anyone white and wrinkly, really. And they were afraid to go to your funeral because, well, all that death. Actually, I empathize with them. Your passing makes me feel like I’ve moved up in the line for Staring Death in the Face. And not just me, but my parents and my other elders. “They’re going to die and have a funeral,” I think whenever I look at, say, anyone, this week. I'll admit I'm shocked, Gramps. Your living to the age of 93 set me up for feeling as if old-age might actually fool death, even when cancer and car accidents cannot. (And when my father, at age 71 has no noticeable gray hair, I begin to think I can avoid pigment loss.)

The day after the service, I tried to convince Grandma to swallow her crushed-up medication for Alzheimers. She trembled at the bitterness and told me she wouldn’t eat it all, and then she began to cry. “What am I going to do? I’ll never get over this!” she exclaimed. She may not get over you; she probably shouldn't, after 73 years of marriage. But she forgets about how she once hoped in Heaven and, when I suggested that she would be reunited with you again someday (I would think sooner rather than later), she looked at me with a touch of bitterness and asked, “Yeah, if you think that’s even possible.”

I do, and I did, and I have to believe that our spirits are connected by a thread from this world to the next. Something filmy and ethereal that we can’t see so well like spider’s silk,
five times stronger than steel, that strung you along from this world to the next when you slipped out of sleep and into eternity in the mid-June of the year. A thread that must hold up longer than the Hawaiian shirt in the closet, a thread that must outperform any mattress or drill press, police radio, colored slippers, and my 93-year-old Gramps-in-the-flesh.

I'll see you again, Gramps, when I know more about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Must-Reads June 23

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Happy Monday to you all. It's been raining like crazy here in eastern Iowa, but the rain broke long enough for me to officiate a very special wedding. Before my brother passed away (read that story here), he was married to a sparklingly alive woman. This weekend, she married a kind and perfectly matched man who is a perfectly matched stepdad to my lovely niece, and I had the honor of officiating in the muggy air of Ushers Ferry historical park in Cedar Rapids. So, thank you sunshine for spending the day with us!

In the meantime, I've been reading all my favorite blogs via Feedly, which has not been working very well on my Apple devices (anyone experiencing the same thing this week?).  Here are some pieces I wanted to share with you.

Matthew Paul Turner writes about "Why the Church Needs to Talk about Syria": "By the time the U.N. confirmed those reports regarding chemical warfare in December, much of the conversation here in the U.S. had died out. And too, even when we were talking about Syria, most of us weren't really talking about it."

Carrien at She Laughs at the Days had a totally inspiring Father's Day post, "My Dad's Example": "It wasn't until that moment really that I understood how strange my childhood was, you know, compared to other people. My dad built a little temporary room in our basement out of wooden screens so he had a place to offer someone he met who needed a place to sleep for the night. He wasn't indiscriminate, he didn't invite people he thought would be a danger to his family, but our house was open to people in need."

And here's this on Babble for all of my first-time mom friends currently caring for newborns, "8 Horrible Parenting Tips You Should Not Follow": "But man, when kids are little...that unsolicited advice is frequent. Because if parents are good at one thing, it's telling other parents what to do. And a lot of the baby parenting advice I received? It sucked."

Happy reading, y'all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dear Pastor-Blogger (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters.
Dear Pastor-Blogger,
(Or: Dear Person Who Writes and Cares About People),

It’s a risky vocation you possess, thinking you can straddle the fence, one foot in social media-land, engaging in global conversations with people you know and barely know, with another foot in the local church, teaching classes weekly,  preaching sermons, getting into the grit of daily life with people in your congregation. Sometimes you wonder if you’ve confused your call, if these two things you engage in are mutually exclusive. You feel like, in theory, they ought to be compatible. Isn’t it right that a church leader demonstrate what it means to respectfully and lovingly engage in challenging discourse with people who disagree or see the world differently? Yes, absolutely, you conclude. But then Real Life reminds you that not everyone is going to follow that same model. And, of course, you are human. Of course, any unresolved tensions in your own heart can creep out in your satire in ways that are Unhelpful. You never forget that, but you look for it like a guard dog on patrol and sometimes, even then, you'll miss it. But say you do catch it all: there’s no guarantee that you’ll express yourself so that you are interpreted as you intend. Words mean different things to different people. People will get offended. And it will crush you when this happens, when you’re misunderstood as being what you’re not, or when you're disliked for what you are. What will you do?

Sure, you could just give up blogging about anything significant, about anything that matters, like you've done before. Safe territory is kid stuff, kitchen stuff, Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul stuff. But that’s not who you are. Kitchens and kids and happy thoughts are not the limit of all your observations and questions about the world that you want to offer the world.

So how do we proceed with diplomacy, Dear One? How do you balance this plate of literary irony, social critique, and agape when those food groups can get out-of-proportion so quickly? And you know how your kids are with disproportioned food groups: constipated or behaviorally jacked up, depending on the kind of excess.  

Consider the following for balance.

1. Learn to care more about people than you care about having the freedom to be careless with your words. You are free, Dear. You are absolutely free. But use your freedom wisely. Use it to help and not to hurt, unless the hurt is Good Hurt, the kind that discomfits us into righting wrongs, seeking truth, making space for those who haven’t gotten any, or speaks for those who can’t/don’t/are afraid to.

2. Work out your offenses/bitterness/anger/hurt surrounding an issue before you ever publish a post about such things. Bitterness gets in the way of constructive activism; it keeps us locked into analysis of the wound, stealing precious attention from finding a solution to the injustice. Plus, bitterness just doesn’t look very pretty on anyone, and you’ll lose friends quickly (unless they’re bitter along with you about the same stuff).

3. Problems with Real, Live People in Real, Live Situations close to your life should be sorted out with those people in those situations and not through a public forum like a blog.  This is Step 2 for Keeping Friends and Influencing People.

4. You should be willing and comfortable to perform anything you write for your blog as a TED talk or a poetry reading—but not as a sermon—in a public venue with your congregation in the audience. No, you are not parsing out the meaning of Job or Genesis, but you should be the same person with the same values, expressed appropriately in different contexts.

5. Sometimes, very personal things happen that, once sorted out, also have merit as kindling for larger-scale conversations. Sometimes this is worth writing about, creating a public space for dialogue. Even when it is painful. Even when it makes the right kind of waves (see #1). Choose these conversations wisely.

6. If you’re unsure about the tone, the heart of a piece, if you’re unsure about whether it does any earthly or heavenly good, ask someone you respect to read it. Someone whose critique would mean something. Someone who would challenge your unkindness and sarcasm but know the difference between that and the irony-that-speaks-louder than any straightforward line. When they give their blessing, rest easy.

7. Think about expressing gratitude if/when you’ve made someone's life (like your boss's or your spouse's) more complicated. Appreciate that s/he’s had to answer emails and phone calls about you over the years. Thank her/him for sticking with you. For believing in you. For believing in the work God is doing in you and through you, imperfect as you are.

8. Also, it would be helpful to convey to your readers, in more ways than one, that the kind of blogging and writing you do is an art form, not a sermon, a Bible study, or a Sunday school class. Artists use motifs, craft, structure, irony, and other devices to offer their message, and sometimes that message takes ferreting out. And sometimes it doesn’t--it’s simple and clean and non-wave-forming. But it’s art, and art’s your way of honing in on What Matters.

9. Sometimes, you'll find out that despite following steps 1-8, you'll confuse people. Maybe, come to find out, your perspective was too narrow. If that happens, widen your lens. Apologize if necessary. Be humble. You'll live to tell about it, and so will everyone else.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (and Watches), June 16

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Good Monday to you. It's sure been a full week. My Gramps passed away at the momentous age of 93 and the week was spent preparing for his funeral and traveling. There wasn't a whole lot of time for blog reading, but I'll share a few tidbits that I found fascinating and also somewhat controversial this week.

For those of you engaged in evangelical "modesty" discussions, this was a fascinating take on the psychological impact of the bikini in our culture. I didn't even know the speaker had a "faith" angle till the end; the science alone, if it's accurate, is fascinating. Although I've seen other responses to the same study online that argue with the research. See what you think.

Something controversial and challenging for those who hold the 2nd amendment dear: Here's a woman who is a a gun lover and supporter of the second amendment and is suggesting that her relationship with Christ might dictate giving up her guns for the sake of safety for our children and our schools.

Glennon had another winner with "The One Conversation that Could Save Your Teen's Life (and Your Own)." I'll definitely be taking this advice.

Have a great week and, as my Gramps would say over and again through the years: "May the Bird of Paradise sit on your sill."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Mama-of-a-Tween-Girl (Epistolary Wednesday)

It's Wednesday, and I'm writing letters...
Dear Mama,

So you’re in the dressing rooms with your tween daughter. It’s that sort of purgatory where the minutes tick by while she decides that something is too see-through or too baggy or too tight when none of it is and it’s not. It’s the place where it takes so much longer than you could ever imagine to try on a pair of mesh jogging shorts and a sports bra and decide whether they’re the right fit. You want to help, you are here to help, so you fetch different sizes and run them back to the dressing room. You describe the sizes, the fits, the colors; you make your recommendations. Finally, the two of you narrow down the yesses and you pile up the nos. In the silences of waiting on such decisions, you notice how beautiful she is—how she glows with the energy of the sun, as if she’s absorbed it all those hours at the pool and the beach and the backyard, and she radiates it back through her rosy skin and glossy brown hair. She’s growing up. She’s a mini-you, sort of; you can see all the likenesses and all the differences and you think about yourself at this age. Her image, under these fluorescent dressing room lights, is for you at once nostalgic and prophetic, conjuring what was and proclaiming the possibility of all that is to come.

Here in this same space, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you sit on the bench in the long hallway outside her changing room. These glimpses prove you’re different than that sundrenched younger woman you once were. Also, those five pounds you keep trying to lose for good just keep creeping back. And weird, spidery webs are whispering into the veins on your legs, something you never in a million years imagined could happen because you were young and you were going to stay young forever. Hormonal changes have turned your hair, once glossy, into a frizzy nest that you work so very hard to keep straight, and your eyes show the tiredness of three babies, ministry, a marriage, life.

These observations run in your head as you wait, and you remember the women who mothered you, standing in front of mirrors, placing critical hands on stomachs and sucking them in; you remember the frenetic attention to the shapes and sizes of various body parts (the ThighMasters, the Buns of Steel videotapes?). But you determined long ago that you would not be that kind of mother. You knew in your guts even before you were able to articulate it aloud: What your daughter needs more than mesh running shorts and a sports bra is for you and all the other mamas to gag the reel of our internal commentary and criticism.

You know that the gift you can give her right now--that will last the rest of her life--is that you Lock It Down and Honor Yourself in her presence. You’ve probably done a great job up ‘til now, Mama, setting a new trend in your generations. You’ve barely heard a single self-critical comment from your tween’s mouth because she hasn’t learned this kind of criticism from you. You’re doing great. But she needs you and me to do great longer. To continue to resist joining the endless and predictable moaning and woeing over our changing mama bodies that are beautiful and wonderfully made and transformed by all of the glories and trials we’ve borne. Her future, 35-year-old self needs your help right now, because when she stands in the mirror juxtaposed with the bursting youth of her own children, you want her to embrace herself whole-heartedly; you want her to love not just her hair but her beautiful wisdom and her hospitable way of being in the world.
Also, your daughter’s right-now security and confidence hinges very much on what you say and how you carry yourself in the world. Even though she’s not asking out loud, Am I Okay?, I’m sure she’s she’s wondered silently at times. Mama, if she can just stand in the aura of your own self-acceptance—along with your spidery veins and squishy tummy from all those babies—she will be able to do the same for herself. If you can love yourself so generously, then of course (as her logic will flow) you can love her, too. If you can gaze back at yourself in that dressing room mirror without flinching and without reproach, well by God, she could expect you to do the same for her, beholding adoringly not just her glorious physical being, but her thoughts and her heart, when she Fails and when she Falls Short (and she knows as well as you do that she will and she has).

Do you remember your own grandparents, all mole-speckled and wrinkle-creased? If you had the right kind of grandparents, then you know that you and they weren't all tripped up over their age. They offered something infinitely more significant than sun-bursting youth: It was Acceptance that began with their very own selves and oozed out into a wide chocolatey puddle that clung to your glorious tween ankles. We can do the same, Mama. If we feel we have no script of our own to speak from at this moment in the lives of our daughters and in our own maturing womanhood, we can at least channel Grandma. Our scripts may be in production, but we'll have them in hand soon. Some of them, right now, are just being workshopped.

Here’s to you, Mama. And to our girls.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (June 9) and #Hacked

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

There's some good stuff around the blogosphere this week I want to share with y'all. But first of all, I'll let you in on a little post that didn't quite make it out there. In fact, I found it in my drafts folder here on Blogger. The post was called "#hacked" and you might guess that one of my children authored that one. You'd be right. For her sake, I'll include it here (I'm so kind, I'm even editing it for her):
Hi, it's Una. I am on Mom's iPad. I know she will hate me 4 this but it must be done. If you haven't read The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan then you are missing out on a big part of life. So go check out the first book, The Lost Hero. The next one is called The Son of Neptune, and next comes The Mark of Athena. The fourth is The House of Hades. The last one comes out this fall it's called The Blood of Olympus. I am so excited. See ya! 
Yep. So that about sums up her reason for living. That and the new iPhone for her birthday that she bought with her own money but is still a birthday present because we are paying for the service for probably the rest of her pre-adult life and maybe even then some.

Onward to reading!

I loved Glennon's "Beauty Routine" on Momastery. It's not what you think, I promise! And you will laugh. Maybe even out loud.

Kelle had a few words for parents with "A Wild Card Day" on Enjoying the Small Things and Shauna Niequist explains the mantra she chants to the unmarried (and married): "You Are Significant With or Without a Significant Other."  Jamie The Very Worst Missionary has something to say to the married with "20 Years." Jamie is hilarious.

And then, Glennon (again) expresses so well the way that we who find ourselves across the political from another human being can bridge it with compassion, with listening, and kindness: "Progress."

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dear Duggars, (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters...

Dear Jim Bob and Michelle,

I’ve only seen about 30 highly produced and edited documentaries about your lives and the lives of your 19 children, but from the looks of it, you seem like real nice folks. I heard about y’all way back when little Josie was born and in the hospital but I had no desire to go acquaint myself with “that 19 Kids family.” Can I be embarrassingly honest? I judged you before I met you. Any couple that willingly has that many kids is just crazy/uber-religious/non-relatable/extremist/judgmental/you-name-it, right? Well, forgive me, my brother and my sister. 

I watched your show (five years after I first heard of you), and you surprised me because you’re different than what I expected. Michelle, where did you get that voice? The one that drips maple syrup and sunshine while your sticky children are climbing all over your wedding vow renewal dress? The voice you use to describe sharing one bathroom with 50 other people at your friends’ (the Bates) home? The voice you use to read to public school children while wearing baby Jordyn Grace on a nursing pillow, locked and loaded under a blanket?

And Jim Bob, while I just don’t process life in terms as simply as you seem to (and boy, do I sometimes wish I did), the truth is you’re just nice to people who aren’t like you, to women who wear pants and to the men who love them, for example. And that shows goodness, Jim Bob, it really does, because you're a man with great convictions who also doesn't push others to share them.

The clincher for me, JB and Michelle, is that when producers ask why you do this or that, your answers aren’t always the ones I’d expect about, for example, how covered up your daughters and sons should be. I don’t hear a trace of women’s-bodies-are-evil rhetoric despite the “Wholesome Swimwear” and the skirts-below-the-knee. No. What I hear is Michelle saying how much they like to keep attention on the “whole person” and not just body parts. Come again? That sounds exactly like something I’d say to my daughters (although I do let them wear pants). And what a positive message for pretty much every woman and girl (under the age of--I don’t know—100??) that's inundated with images of TV and internet booty shakers.

But let me still be honest: not everything you and your kids say resonates with me. I know you say you want them to "make their own decisions" and "set their own guidelines," but the next sound bite is your daughter parroting you while describing her values for courtship, marriage and hand-holding. Once in a while, I’d like to see a Duggar kid question authority—not because they’re rebellious, but just because they’re thinking for themselves.

Yet, watching your show makes me wonder for a moment if thinking for oneself is overrated. The thing is: these kids seem so genuine, and so content with the influence of all that "authority" in their lives. (Ignorance is bliss?) And for that, I have to admit, JB and M, that I am just the teensiest bit jealous of you and the fam. Your lives contain that much chaos, that many groceries and doctor appointments and diapers to change, and yet you seem so chill and so happy.  Is it the nursing hormones, Michelle?  Jim—is it the gallons of aerosol hairspray inhaled every day? Or something more? I dunno.

Some days, I just want to have what you're having and call it good. But then I remember you don't dance or wear pants or give "full" hugs or listen to/sing anything other than pre-1950s church hymns, and I think, I'll stick with what I've got, even though my kids question about 95% of what I say and my 9-year-old isn't convinced there's a thing wrong with holding hands with a boy at her age, God help me. But I'm sticking with this, my own, experiment for now. I'll keep you posted on how they all turn out.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Must-Read Monday (June 2)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian
A few great meditations for this week:

In the wake of Maya Angelou's death, Glennon Melton writes for the Huffington Post about the kind of women all of us women should have in our lives: "Find Yourself a Maya."

On making sure we stay in touch with what is most important: Lisa Whittle's "Break the Rules so the Rules Don't Break You"  and "When It All Locks into Place" from Sarah Bessey.

And for you nesty, design freaks out there: I love a beautiful kitchen as much as the next person, but here's a worthwhile "Manifesto Against the Tyranny of the Luxury Kitchens" by Victoria Elizabeth Barnes.  Also, on the topic of DIY and design, I highly recommend The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful for all of us amateur home designers. Myquillyn Smith is the perfect sanity-checker for all of us who want to live in beautiful and peacefully designed homes and don't have a lot of money/time/energy to create them. Lots of inspiration and lots of practical advice.

On June 23, I'll be announcing the winner of a FREE copy of Dear Boy,. Wanna be considered for the drawing? Here's how: Follow my blog by either signing up to have new posts delivered to your email inbox OR subscribe to the site posts by adding it to a blog reader that you use, such as Feedly. Sign up easily at the prompts on the right-hand side of the page here. Once you've done so, comment on any post letting me know you are following and how you are doing it. Your name will go into the drawing for a free book and the winner will be announced in June.